Recent negotiations over the phone between the Norman Quartet leaders have left all participants holding their ground and pursuing their own vision of how to move toward the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Each meeting and each conference call of the Normandy Four leaders is another attempt to give a new impetus to the negotiation process. However, after many such attempts, today we can state with certainty that the process is anything but productive, being unable to yield any results in the Donbas settlement.
Gradually, western leaders, including Merkel and Macron, as well as the new U.S. administration, began to realize that are not dealing with internal Ukrainian civil conflict (the mantra repeated by the Kremlin) but with the Russian aggression and an actual war between the two states, Ukraine and Russia. When the time comes when no one is able to deny the fact any longer, all sides to these negotiations will come to understand that the talks in their existing format may no longer be a positive thing as such, since they position Russia as a mediator, not party to the conflict.
Given the lack of the balance of forces, Russia will try to achieve progress in the negotiations at the expense of the weaker side
There is one way to rectify this problem, that is by strengthening Ukraine’s defense and security sectors. Negotiations with the Russian side can be productive only when the balance of forces is restored, when the Russians have no significant advantage on the battlefield. To this end, not only Ukraine needs deterrence weapons, it must also have potential retaliation weaponry - that is, lethal offensive arms. But first, the balance of forces must be restored on the battlefield, in order to start tentatively to consider holding negotiations and reaching agreements.
In fact, Russia is not interested in fulfilling any requirements that are not favorable to Moscow. The Kremlin is interested in using Minsk agreements to force Ukraine through intermediaries - France and Germany - to fulfill Minsk agreements the way Russia wants, i.e. unilaterally.
Given the lack of the balance of forces, Russia will try to achieve progress in the negotiations at the expense of the weaker side. Therefore, Ukraine needs to be strengthened, while Russia - weakened. And this process must be both simultaneous and more intense. The West has long embarked on a path of weakening Russia, through economic and personal sanctions. But they are still not enough to make the Russian leadership ready to strike deals.
U.S. Special Representative on Ukraine Kurt Volker has already been involved in the process. The only reservation is that the U.S. is not a member of the Norman format, and Kurt Volker takes no direct part in these talks
Therefore, there are two recipes: arms of Ukraine and more sanctions against Russia. Only this will create conditions for productive talks with the Russian side.
What would the U.S. involvement change in these negotiations? First of all, it should be noted that U.S. Special Representative on Ukraine Kurt Volker has already been involved in the process. The only reservation is that the U.S. is not a member of the Norman format, and Kurt Volker takes no direct part in these talks. But the U.S. is engaged in bilateral talks with both Ukraine and Russia, in particular, to discuss the issue of the implementation of Minsk accords. That is, the American side, one way or another, is present in the negotiations process.
I believe that the format will not be changing anytime soon. However, another format of talks may emerge in parallel lines, as it was before along the Nuland-Surkov line. Similarly, Kurt Walker will be involved in parallel negotiations.
Volodymyr Horbach is a political analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation